What keeps me running?

It’s been three days since my downhill marathon, and my quads are still on fire.

The first 6 miles were appropriately described as a “rolling 10k.” It was one of the most beautiful 6 miles on earth. Buses had driven us up the mountain at 6:30am under a clear, starry sky where every constellation could be identified. Quiet conversations ensued amongst us with tales of past and future races here, there and everywhere.

Peak to Creek Marathon Elevation (finishlinepros.com)

The starting line was in front of a Marathon gas station along a quiet mountain road, boasting a double row of porta pottys where we all stood quietly in line. .  twice.

There were 300 some odd runners, and only those at the front of the pack could possibly hear the comments the Race Director made at the start. I didn’t even hear what actually started the race, but we all headed out at 8am sharp among a momentary rise in the decibel level of excited runners.

The mountains in the distance were spectacular in orange, red and yellow. Christmas trees were being harvested from a farm that spread across dozens of acres, and despite the challenging terrain of these first 6 miles, nothing could distract from the spectacular views. I made a point to pay attention to the surroundings during this race, and it paid off handsomely.

Hunters lined the road deep into the second half of the course, their dogs barking wildly across the valley. We passed a black bear strapped to the back of a truck – something I had never seen. We ran between gigantic boulders that seemed to reach the clouds as if the trail had been blasted right through the granite mountain. A creek followed us down the mountain for most of the second half reminding me of my own favorite long run spot at home. Although, everything was not bliss. . .

Most of the course was in the National Forest on unpaved roads. Camber was not to be an issue, although I’ve never met a switchback that didn’t camber. Rainwater runoff left deep dips in the road that could be treacherous, and more than a few times we landed sure-footed on large gravel stones.

My feet were terribly sore as we reached the home stretch, my legs like mush, and I had battled an upset stomach for hours (my husband reminded me that my stomach has never tolerated blue Gatorade very well). My finish time was 4:41:00.

I was trying to hold it together across the finish line, but the lady’s expression in front of me was how I really felt.

The post-mortem was held Sunday morning over coffee.

My husband thinks it could be training error. I think it could be race strategy. Then we spent a good amount of time on the subject of why I want to run marathons at all, and what really motivates me to run in the first place.

I admitted (agreed) that I am competitive, and I doubt I will ever be the kind of person that wants to simply ‘finish’ a marathon. Reluctantly, I also admitted it seemed futile to spend that many hours in pain if not to find an acceptable spot among my peers. It’s who I am, and I suppose it was good to admit this at 56 years old. More importantly, the conversation forced me to think about why I keep running at all.

A post I had written in March 2014 popped up on this blog’s Trending Now list that same afternoon. I couldn’t even remember what I had written, so I read it. The entire post was about running hills, and the last paragraph a quote from a book I had read on Chi Running. It is a fairly good answer to why I keep running at all.

A new idea is to transform running from a sport to a practice. If you see running only as a sport, you’re limiting yourself to getting only the physical benefits. It’s like the difference between stretching and yoga…between sitting in a waiting room and sitting in meditation…between training your body to run faster or farther and practicing to run in a mindful and masterful way.

Making an activity a practice is a process of self-mastery. You are no longer simply practicing that activity; you use it to learn about, understand, and master yourself as well as the activity.”

(Excerpt From: Dreyer, Danny. “ChiRunning.” Simon and Schuster, 2009.)